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Getting Creative with Natural Materials

How creative can you really get with natural building materials?

Getting Creative with Natural Materials
Photo Credit: Joshua Hoehne/Unsplash

Assemble materials in ways that express their inherent properties. Stone holds up the building, prevents rot and is a natural transition from the earth to the building above. The timber frame rests on the stone, creates the structure for the living space and resists the forces of wind, snow and earthquakes. Natural timber homes reflect their region and differ according to the materials available—for example, ochre, red, white and gray stones; brown, tan, orange, red, green and blue clays. A surprising variety exists within the basic materials.

And then there’s the foundation. If you are serious about local materials and renewable energy, you need an alternative to concrete foundations. Radical? Maybe not as much as you think. Timber frames were historically set upon a foundation of dry stone that uses no mortar. The possibilities for modern timber frame structures with stone foundations are endless.

By keeping a structure modest in size, the sill plates are able to carry the load of the building without sagging, because the timber-sill system acts as a beam. In a concrete foundation, the tensile strength comes from metal rebar and compression strength from concrete. The dry-stone foundation separates these functions. Compression strength is in the stonework; tensile strength is in the timber sills. The timber frame has its own structural integrity independent of the foundation.

Stonework does not seem to “wick” or pull water up to the sills the way concrete does, and the small air spaces allow moisture to dissipate without damaging sills if an appropriate wood species has been used.
Note: This approach to a foundation is just one idea to building a home. We suggest you talk to timber-home companies and your general contractor before considering this method with the building system you choose.

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